Long delays in SSDI claims processing by Social Security Administration

Waiting for benefit approval can be devastating for sick or injured claimants.

It is well known that when an application for Social Security Disability Insurance is filed with the Social Security Administration the claimant could wait for benefits for months or longer. SSDI is the federal disability insurance program we all contribute to through our Social Security payroll deductions and by filing an application, the person is asserting eligibility based on severe mental or physical disability that prevents him or her from working.

Having to wait so long for the financial assistance SSDI provides while an eligible applicant is sick and without income is particularly difficult and it is not that unusual for such a person to die during the waiting period. This problem has gone on for decades and, although problems persist, the agency has made some attempts to improve things.

For example, it created the Compassionate Allowances program that fast tracks applications of claimants with specific medical diagnoses recognized as so severe the application will be automatically approved once objective medical evidence of diagnosis is received. On its website, the SSA states that a Compassionate Allowances applicant "may receive a decision on their claim in a matter of weeks instead of months or years."

Many initial applications are denied with benefits finally being granted at a higher level of review or appeal (there are three levels within the agency, including a hearing before an administrative law judge, as well as the further possibility of federal court review).

In November 2015, the Associated Press published a piece about SSDI wait times in which several important facts were included:

  • The SSA received $1 billion less than it had requested from Congress to hire additional staff.
  • The average monthly SSDI benefit check is $1,165.
  • One million administrative hearings before ALJs are pending.
  • The average wait for an ALJ hearing is approximately one year plus four months.
  • Almost half of all applications are eventually approved.

A claimant increases his or her chances of being approved on the initial application by retaining legal counsel for assistance with filing the application. An attorney who regularly practices before the SSA in SSDI cases will be well versed in what information - especially what medical evidence - the claimant should provide with the initial application to make it more likely the agency will approve the claim early on.

Even if a claimant does not have a lawyer at the initial application, involving counsel at a later stage, such as at the administrative hearing level, can also be advantageous and increase chances of benefits being granted.

Attorney Annette Rutkowski of the Law Office of Annette Rutkowski LLC with offices in Indianapolis and Lafayette, Indiana, represents clients in SSDI claims in central, western and southern Indiana.